In Honor of Madonna’s Splendidly Awful Show Last Night…

…and of Stacy McCain’s judicious assessment of same, here is a re-post of me fisking a Madonna press conference back in 2005:

Madonna: the Gag That Keeps On Giving

We were hoping that Her Pretentiousness would grace us with a response to those who’ve been mocking her these past several weeks. Well the God she worships evidently exists, because our prayers have been answered. A few excerpts:

[S]he says her motivation for recording such an album wasn’t simply to make fun music again, or even to shore up her wobbly recording career.

Instead, it seems, she wanted to, ahem, help mankind.

“It’s that old cliché,” Madonna explains, “when the world gets you down, you need to be lifted up. Look at the state of the world. People need to be inspired and happy.”

The justification for all sappy music and bad TV, delivered with the pomposity of an adjunct professor of sociology. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Back then, the singer made a very un-Madonna-like move by withdrawing her controversial video for “American Life,” which equated Bush with Saddam Hussein. Now she asserts that the only reason she yanked the video was “because I was worried for my children. I saw what happened with the Dixie Chicks. I didn’t want people to throw rocks at [my kids] on the way to school.”

Maybe I’ve been drinking the wrong Kool-Aid, but I don’t remember anyone stoning the Dixie Chicks, and I’ve been waiting for someone to stone the Dixie Chicks for some time, because of their wack middlebrow countrified pop, not their politics. I’m pretty sure that all the Dixie Chicks had to put up with was some fan backlash. Anyone want to set me straight?

The new documentary contrasts tellingly with the old one. In “Truth or Dare,” Madonna comes off as a flip and provocative fun-time gal. This time she says things like, “Sometimes fun is overrated.”

While “Truth” painted her as an outrageous Lady Madonna, “Secret” reveals her to be a cross between Joan Baez and a singing-dancing Mother Teresa in training.

Sometimes fun is overrated, she says. Not rebellion. Not naughtiness. FUN.

Methinks the commenter on Boxing Alcibiades was correct when he suggested that Madonna was going to be a Catholic again in a few years. And hardcore, at that.

“Obviously, my tastes and my priorities have changed,” she says. “But I am still asking the question ‘Why?’ Just because I’m a mother doesn’t mean I’m not still a rebel…

Actually, Kato, that’s exactly what it means. Rebellion is, or ought to be, dangerous work. If unsuccessful, it invites suppression by the Man, and if successful, leads to a vacuum of power that often kills its parents (just ask Danton). Those who have no one to leave behind are best suited to engaging in such. Those with children ought to have pause about the larger consequences of their actions. It’s called responsibility.

Of course, this assumes a world where earning the title of “rebel” involves something a bit more risky than performing the epater le bourgeois routine for cash. So maybe she’s right.

“It’s not conservative,” she says. “It’s actually very punk-rock to not watch TV.”

Because when I think “punk rock”, I think “Madonna”. Only in her world would being the movie girlfriend of Richard Hell make one an authority on music whose clothes she copied but never played. If the Bee Gees tried to tell us what was punk rock, we’d crucify them, but this silly disco granny gets taken seriously. As the Kabbalists say, OY.

But let Madonna talk long enough about pop-culture excess, and she ends up sounding not wildly dissimilar to Pat Robertson. “It’s very surface-oriented and of the moment and disposable,” she says. “You have to constantly up the ante. [Celebrities] just have to keep getting more extreme to get attention. It’s crap. It’s scary. We are obviously creating our own demise.”

Eeyow! Are things that bad?

“Look at the world we live in,” says Madonna, yet again.

Uh-huh. And she contributed to NONE of this. The woman who made bland, chirpy pop tunes that you could dance to about heartbreak and….more heartbreak; the woman who made a cottage industry out of offering substanceless shock disguised as deep thinking; the woman who famously made out with two of her copycats on national television is completely and utterly innocent of adding to a culture that is “surface-oriented and of the moment and disposable.” Is there no one around her with an irony meter?

Where’s that Belgian pie-thrower when you need him?

In reaction to this excess, the singer has spent more and more time exploring the inner life through her faith. The shift has inspired more hostility toward her than anything in years.

“It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi Party,” Madonna says of the kabbala.

Um, no. If Madonna joined the Nazi Pary, every American of conscience would denounce her from the highest soapbox, her career would swirl the drain with the rapidity of an American Idol winner, and we’d pack her off to England with hardly a memory. Joining Kabbalah has made her merely eccentric and subject to some of Leno and Letterman’s lamer jokes.

Is there no one around her who’s heard of Godwin’s Law?

A song on the new album titled “Isaac,” which uses Jewish musical motifs, has outraged some kabbalist rabbis. They claim the song is about Isaac (or Yitzhak) Luria, a 16th-century Jewish mystic. “Jewish law forbids the use of the name of the holy rabbi for profit,” Rabbi Rafael Cohen, who heads a seminary named after Luria, said in a statement.

Madonna insists that her song is not about Luria at all but about Yitzhak Sinwani, who sings on the track. “They’re saying I’m committing a blasphemy, but that’s not what the song is about,” she says. “What are they doing commenting on pop songs? Don’t they have synagogues to pray in?”

So Madonna, Holy Madonna, Madonna our Redemptorix can mix the world of religion and pop and scoff at those who haven’t the imagination to follow her, but anyone else with a different perspective should stay in the temple and shut up. I feel enlightened just being in her presence.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously pithed that American Lives have no second acts. Madonna clearly doesn’t believe this, which may be why she moved to England. But you can’t have a second act until you pull the curtain down on the first one, which she is completely unwilling to do. And the longer she fails to do it, the more her fate as an entre’act spectacle, slipping in on the gag reel, is assured. And for someone like me, whose hated the woman since I first had to listen to shrill renderings of “Papa Don’t Preach” by neighborhood girls, that will be a joy eternal.


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