If a Halftime Show is a Protest and Trump Doesn’t Notice, Does it Make a Sound?

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

It’s a philosophical concept of perspective, boy, does it apply here. Lady Gaga performed a highly anticipated Super Bowl Halftime show this weekend whilst millions of Americans watched in awe. After the show, public figures like Bruno Mars all the way to Marco Rubio and Ivanka Trump praised it. Yes, Ivanka Trump. Now, let’s stop there.

This morning I scrolled through articles citing Gaga’s performance’s ‘hidden messages’. The articles claimed the halftime show was so clever and so good that it totally went over the heads of those who might oppose it. But does an artistic protest really do its job if those it’s meant to be against don’t even notice? Or is Lady Gaga’s performance the ‘If a tree falls in a forest…’ of protests?

Note how Trump has yet to bash Gaga on his infamous Twitter account. This is a man who never has any qualms about expressing his disdain for those who don’t agree with him. We all know Gaga is against Trump, and has spoken out against him in other platforms, so why didn’t he notice now? In a recent Complex article, writer Mitchell Sunderland critiqued Gaga’s performance as a missed opportunity, stating,

“(Lady Gaga’s performance) was a subtle political message, but subtlety and hope aren’t going to cut it in the United States of America when a garish man is turning the Oval Office gold.”

Was Gaga’s performance visibly queer? Yes. Was she probably the first to ever say ‘transgender’ during a Super Bowl halftime show? Most definitely. But now is not the time for subtle messages of so-called hope. Even though the performance was meant to unify everyone, it missed the point and sugar coated the struggles millions.

Inversely, Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl performance sparked all sorts of controversy, because instead of the weak sauce message of “Love Trumps Hate”, she bravely shouted a message of accountability to those that oppress black people. She demanded people look at themselves, instead of pretend we’re all the same. We’re not all the same, and our subtle differences are what got us here. Gaga had a chance to take a real stand. Instead she made a small gesture that not even all liberals or progressives noticed.

Full disclosure, I’ve always found Gaga’s activism tepid. She may be the spokesperson for many a white queer, but a simple ‘Love Trumps Hate’ outlook doesn’t pull at my heartstrings quite enough for me to jump on board. Not when my fellow black and brown trans family are still being attacked, proving her statement currently ineffective. I’m inspired by Gaga’s sincerity and her skill, her clear desire to unify and uplift marginalized voices, while still disappointed that she didn’t use this moment to speak out against oppression. Subtlety is not the currency of Trumpland.

So, if a Super Bowl Halftime show falls flat in a forest, and no one notices, does it make a sound?

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