The subject of Madonna’s sexuality is considered in the context and against the background of her development as a musical and video star and modern cultural icon. The paper explores the meaning and the significance of the use of sexuality in her art and focuses on two important and often contradictory issues. The first is that the use of sexuality in her music, videos and book publications as essentially a marketing and strategic device intended primarily to shock and, furthermore, to manipulate the perceptions of the viewer or audience. This view would suggest that Madonna uses sexuality rather callously as a manipulative technique to draw attention to herself and her music.
The other view considered in the paper through the analysis of her music and media work, is that the use of sexually in fact forms an integral and coherent part of her artistic intention and oeuvre. This view would suggest that the use of sexual images and lyrics has positive aspects, in that it is intended to address issues relating to personal freedom, independence, expression and feminism.
This use of sexuality is also considered in terms of its impact on modern culture and the interrogation of moribund and inadequate social and cultural norms that entrap and subjugate both women and men.
In the final analysis a combination of these two views of Madonna’s sexuality is explored with the intention of showing that a comprehensive assessment of sexuality in these works must include elements of both manipulation and artistic and social integrity.
The development of a pop star or icon is as much to do with image, media hype and public awareness as it has to do with talent. There is little doubt that a musical, video and film celebrity like Madonna has great talent and ability. However, her prominence as an icon of modern culture has also to take into account aspects of advertising, marketing and the projection of a certain image to the public, all of which are created to maintain her celebrity status.
The erotic and sexual imagery, innuendo and blatant suggestion that forms such as integral part of much of Madonna’s work is in essence not new. What is new and innovative is the way that this material has been presented and manipulated and the way that aspects of modern culture have been made use of in the development of a unique “brand name’ that is recognized as “Madonna” in almost every corner of the world where music and the media are accessible.
On the other hand it would possibly be unfair and even erroneous to suggest that all of Madonna’s work is pure manipulation and to reduce all her achievement to an analysis of premeditated views and marketing strategies.
The use of sexual overtones and images in her videos and music also has to be considered in term of their artistic integrity. The social view of the ideal of female sexual innocence is critiqued in Madonna’s work and art and this has a social function, as well as being engineered by the process of media hype and marketing.
The following discussion will analyze the issue of sexuality in Madonna’s music and imagery and will take both the above views of her work into account. Madonna as a successful musical and media icon can be seen as the result of a successful marketing and media strategy as well as an integrated artistic phenomenon. The underlying question that will inform much of the following discussion revolves around the extent to which we can state that Madonna’s success is only a result of clever hype and marketing in relation to the use of sexuality and, on the other hand, to what extent is it the result of a coherent and legitimate artistic achievement.
The manipulation and role of sexuality in modern media culture
It is trite but true that modern media, advertising and entertainment is extremely influential in that way that people perceive themselves, especially in terms of their sexuality. In conventional media representations of sexual identity, “…Males tend to be presented in sports and professional activity contexts, savoring freedom and adventure” while traditionally “… females are portrayed either in relation to males, as spouses and homemakers, or in relation to children, as parents and homemakers. While females might be portrayed as manipulable and submissive, males appear powerful and authoritative, frequently in protagonist roles.” (Domenech-Rodriguez)
Popular music since the 1960s has tended to question these traditional sexual roles and norms and has interrogated the dominant sexual norms of the society and culture. Contemporary music and art has made use of sexual imagery and lyrics as a sign of rebellion against older morals and values that were considered to be hidebound and retrogressive rather than progressive. The youth culture and the emergence of modern popular and rock music were generally concerned with a central theme – the liberation of human consciousness and meaning from a world that had become overly materialistic and conservative and which prevented new and important expressions of feelings. Sexual images and lyrics in music were therefore essentially seen as form a rebellion against the status quo. It is within this context that the use of sexuality and sexual images in the works of Madonna should be considered.
Madonna as contemporary cultural icon
2.1. Overview of her rise to fame
Madonna is famous not only as a creative musical performer and artist but also as an innovator on a social as well as cultural level. She is seen by many commentators and critics as being responsible for changing and even initiating many social values and perceptions; especially with regard to the way that contemporary issues and debate about how female sexuality and sexual expression is perceived and experienced in contemporary society. One study summarizes her affect on modern culture as;
..someone who took on the Catholic Church, mainstreamed gay culture, more or less invented the now-common art of voyeuristic celebrity peekaboo with her documentary Truth or Dare, then put out a book of high-end porn and got away with it all
In other words, Madonna is much more than a modem musical success but is rather a cultural icon that, through music and art, has succeeded to a great degree in challenging and possibly changing perceptions about society and modern culture as few other entertainers have done.
A brief and somewhat selective overview of more salient aspects of her background, upbringing and career will serve to highlight the importance of sexuality in her work.
Madonna was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in 1958. After her mother’s death from cancer in 1963, and following periods of uncertainty and family instability, she sought her fortune in New York with very little to support herself. This illustrates a central aspect about Madonna’s character which was to be reflected in her music and use of sexuality; namely her strong sense of independence and personal liberty and freedom. In New York she scraped together a living by posing for nude photographs, selling doughnuts, dancing, singing and playing music in smalltime bands before she finally broke out with her first big single Everybody in 1982, followed by more big hits Lucky Star, Borderline, and Holiday.
(Madonna, the master of reinvention)
Her trajectory to fame and fortune was initiated by the 1985 release and success of Like a Virgin, which was an international hit. This was to be followed with another smash hit, Material Girls in 1986.
Madonna understood the value of controversy and shock tactics in the promotion and marketing of her work and she become famous for bringing sexuality ‘into the living room’ via video and music. This is clearly evident in the 1989 hit song Like a Prayer, which was “… set to a video of Catholic-educated Ciccone prostrating herself in church in a low-cut dress.” (Madonna, the master of reinvention) This combination of sensuality and religious symbolism was extremely provocative and caused dismay and criticism from the conservative establishment, while receiving applause from the younger generation.
Madonna also pursued her career on screen and acted in many roles such as Desperately Seeking Susan, although critics have not in general responded favorably to her acting ability. What is significant in terms of the present discussion is that these forays by Madonna into different media have revealed her ability to ‘reinvent’ herself and her image. In fact, many commentators emphasize this aspect and note her facility to respond to the needs and demands of the time and to the cultural trends in the world. This also applies to her use of sexuality and sensual imagery in her work. This relates to the use of sexuality in film as well as in music; for example, the 1993 erotic thriller Body of Evidence, where “…she burned herself into film goers memories in typically provocative style, dripping hot candle wax onto a naked Willem Dafoe.” (Madonna, the master of reinvention)
In 2006 the Guinness Book of Records rated Madonna as the highest-earning female singer of that year. In 2007 she was also named the most powerful personality in the United States and earned an annual amount of seventy two-million dollars. (Madonna, the master of reinvention) These facts are indicative of her increasing popularity and, more importantly, her influence on culture through her music and videos. Throughout, sexuality has continued to play a dominant role in her art and in the construction of her image. This includes her 1990 film, entitled Truth or Dare or” in Bed with Madonna”; as well as her notorious and much-discussed 1992 book entitled Sex, as well as her recent debut direction of the recent film, Filth and Wisdom.
The Sex book is essentially a record of various sexual fantasies, which again attests to the importance of eroticism and sexuality in her artistic oeuvre. Sex was released on October 21, 1992 by Warner Books and is designed as a sumptuous coffee-table book which explores a range of erotica and sexuality through artistic photographs by Steven Meisel and film frames by Fabien Baron. The book was released by Madonna as an accompaniment to her fifth studio album Erotica, which was released a day earlier than the publication of the book.
There is conjecture that the book was released merely as a marketing strategy to increase interest and draw attention to the album – which it certainly succeeded in doing. The book is extremely erotic and depicts various sexual fantasies and acts, including homosexuality and sadomasochism. The book of course resulted in many negative essays and articles. It also led to many negative responses from those fans who felt that in this instance Madonna had gone too far in sexual expression and transgressed boundaries that went beyond necessary freedom of expression. (the Sex Book)
However, Madonna is mercurial and changes her image continually. She was to develop a new look in the 1990s with the “… pointy cone-shaped bras she donned on her Express Yourself and Vogue tours.” (Madonna, the master of reinvention) the radical changes and reinventions of her character and image can be seen especially in her more recent decision to write books for children. She published the English Roses (2003), which is a story of schoolchildren in London. This somewhat extreme change in subject and style was successful and the book reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list. However, it also raises the question as to whether Madonna is consciously using extremes to sell and promote her work; or whether it is a genuine expression of artistic drive.
There have been many instances of these changes in direction in her career. She changed the style of her music in the 1900s with the multi-award-winning 1998 album Ray of Light and also has taken an interest in spirituality and the Kabbalah, which is a radical change from the emphasis on coquettish sexuality of the past. At the same time Madonna never ceases to shock and to make use of sexuality and eroticism. In 2003 she,”… grabbed the showbiz world s attention by clinching pop princess Britney Spears in a lingering kiss on stage at the 2003 MTV Music Video Awards.” (Madonna, the master of reinvention) These changes and radial new directions in her careeer have caused critics to state that she is only a clever opportunist who uses and then shapes cultural trends and fads to her own ends to promote herself. As Madonna herself has stated; “I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons.” (Madonna, the master of reinvention) on the other hand, there are many commentators who see more to her art than mere callous manipulation.
2.2. Sexuality and Madonna’s early life
While the above brief and truncated overview of her career and the use of sexually provide some insights into the significance of Madonna’s use of sexuality, one has to explore her personal life to some extent in order to understand the roots and motivation for her use of sexuality in her works. As stated in the introduction to this paper, Madonna’s use of sexuality cannot only be seen as a cold and impersonal marketing device or ploy – although this is true to some extent. There are indications that can be found in references to her childhood and teenage years that provide clues that link sexual freedom and expression to the need for personal expression and liberty in her life.
A telling event in Madonna’s life was the death of her mother from cancer. Madonna was only seven years of age at the time and as a result of this tragic event, her family life was severely disrupted. Her father found that he could not cope with the demands of six children and Madonna and her siblings were sent to live with various relatives. After this period of disruption, the children returned home and were looked after by a housekeeper, which was also an unsettling and unsatisfactory situation and there was little stability in the home. Her father then remarried and Madonna did not get on well with her stepmother who was reportedly, “…really gung-ho, very strict, a real disciplinarian.” (About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
This situation could be seen as the motivation that led Madonna to a search for self-expression and independence from a conflicting and restrictive home environment. This would also help to explain the use of sexuality as a means of rebellion in her music. This tendency to rebel and express her individuality though sexuality can also be related to her strict and highly disciplinary Catholic school education. Madonna has described her experience of Catholicism as “…dark, painful and guilt-ridden” ? And responded by becoming an even more flamboyant attention-getter.” (About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
It is noteworthy that images from her catholic background were to form an integral part of her music and videos, in close conjunction with rebellious and sexual imagery. The following quotation provides a clear insight into her rebellious nature and her need for self-expression and independence that was to be so well conveyed in her music.
I wanted to do everything everybody told me I couldn’t do. I had to wear a uniform to school, I couldn’t wear make-up, I couldn’t wear nylon stockings, I couldn’t cut my hair, I couldn’t go on dates. I couldn’t even go to the movies with my friends. So when I’d go to school I’d roll up my uniform skirt so it was short, I’d go to the school bathroom and put make-up on and change into nylon stockings I’d brought. I was incredibly flirtatious and I’d do anything to rebel against my father.
(About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
2.3. Sexuality in her music and image
In discussing the issue of sexual images and lyrics in Madonna’s work and performances, one has to continually bear in mind that there is a certain amount of manipulation, preconception and strategy in her use of types of images and ideas – especially with regard to sexuality. One also has to take into account the ‘shock’ value of sexuality.
Sexuality and sexual innuendo is a very important part of the phenomenon of Madonna, particularly in the earlier years of her artistic development. The ideas and values that Madonna presented through her music had a far-reaching influence on a generations of young people and especially on women. Her use of sexual imagery is strongly related to the ideals of feminism and individual freedom.
As has already been referred to, from the beginning Madonna was very aware of the role of sexuality in her music. However, what is important to understand at the outset is that while she went against the more conservative norms and standards of the entertainment industry as they were in the early 1980s, with the use of sexual imagery and blatant lyrics, yet this was not only intended to be outrageous or to attract attention. Besides the attraction of shock value there was a subtle message in her use of imagery that went much further than merely a simplistic act of outrage and defiance.
Madonna ascended to popular stardom in the face of a music and entertainment industry that was essentially patriarchic and male centered and controlled. (Meltzer, 45) as one commentator states about her sense of showmanship and her understanding of the media, “…she used the attention she was attracting to turn the values of that industry on its head. ” (Meltzer, 45)
The crucial fact is that Madonna was not using sexuality or nakedness in her acts to please or entice a male audience.
She was “…not doing it on the request of, or even for the pleasure of, heterosexual men.” (Meltzer, 45) on the contrary she was using sexuality not in a subservient way but rather to express her own individuality and sexuality.
As Metzer (2000) states, “She made herself the reason why she took her clothes off; she used her sexuality in a way that empowered her and no one else.” (Meltzer, 45)
This important aspect can be clearly seen for example in the 1989 video of Express Yourself. In the video a cat is cast in the lead role, while men are relegated to being chained. The message is clearly one that is opposed to male dominance and is focused on sensuality as an expression of female liberation and freedom from the shackles of a male dominated society. This view can be discerned in a 1990 interview with Madonna, in which she was asked the meaning of the cat in the video. She responded to the interviewer: “I guess what I was trying to say is that ***** rules the world.” (Meltzer 45) in other words, the emphasis is on female identity and sensuality and not the male oriented view, as is the general convention or stereotype.
The issue of the use of sexuality as a means of personal expression and liberation from a predominantly male centered world is an important aspect to consider in the overall discussion of Madonna’s sexuality and will be referred to in more depth in this paper. It also refers to one of the cardinal reasons for the popularity of the sensual imagery and lyrics that have influenced a generation of women and men and resulted in adulation as well as outrage and controversy. (Meltzer, 45) study that sheds considerable light on the way that Madonna’s music and image has affected and influenced young women is the Madonna Experience: AU.S. Icon Awakens a Puerto Rican Adolescent’s Feminist Consciousness (2001) by Carmen Lugo-Lugo.
This works explores the impact that Madonna’s music and sensual imagery has had on the life and development of young women in a social and cultural environment that is restrictive and conservative; where women are relegated to a mainly subservient role. The experience of the author reflects the common experiences of many young women around the world at the time.
In the article the author describes how some of Madonna’s statements and lyrics were to become inspirational and symbolic for this young girl and for many other young people.
A wanna conquer the world,” stated Madonna Louise Veronica Cicconne in a Behind the Music performance. “See, I get what I want…. I do what I want with my life….Absolutely no regrets….I’m really good at provoking….I’m really good at getting people’s attention.”
These words resonate with a sense of defiance and challenge to the conservative culture that would see a woman as ‘inferior’ in any sense. Even more importantly, they are in essence a declaration of individual identity and personal assertion, which found an eager and ready audience in many younger, and older, people of both genders who felt restricted or subjugated. These words can also be related to the music and to the sensual and erotic imagery that added to the sense of individual liberty that defied conservatism and tradition.
The message and mood that Madonna evokes in her music is especially relevant to women in extremely conservative societies. The demand for individual freedom was coupled with sexuality and sexual imagery and connotations that were intended to interrogate and break down the mores and norms of the culture and society. Lugo-Lugo states the following with regard to the way that Madonna was perceived by a young women growing up in the conservative culture of Puerto Rico:
When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, where the word “feminism” had to struggle for a place in the national lexicon, Madonna was an icon of teenage female rebellion, providing alternatives to the traditional, established definitions of womanhood and femininity.
This was combined with a reassessment of the values and lifestyle that was normally accepted without question but was now open to interrogation partly as a result of the music and images created by Madonna. As the author of the article states;
Through this subversion of cultural norms Madonna gave my generation a slap in the face and made most of us stop and rethink the traditional roles we were expected to perform in society, pushing us beyond the conventional rebellion that many teenage girls go through. This Madonna-inspired rebellion meant much more than merely challenging adults and other authority figures. This rebellion was about questioning traditional roles and beliefs in a society where traditional roles and beliefs were set in stone.
The above statement needs to be unpacked to a certain extent as it contains a number of issues that relate to the reasons for the use of sexuality in Madonna’s work.
The author refers to a “slap in the face” or a wakeup call. The use of sexual imagery is intended as a shock tactic to awaken the innate sense of independence and freedom within the individual. In other words, the use of subversive images and lyrics results in a questioning and interrogation of the status quo and a reassessment of the lifestyle and accepted values in the society, “…pushing us beyond the conventional rebellion that many teenage girls go through.”
Lugo-Lugo) Traditional views were no longer seen to be set in stone and the sexual imagery helps to loosen the grip of the conventional standards and values of the society.
The influence of Madonna’s music and images led the author to radically question the society in which she lived.
I remember talking to Ivelisse, my neighbor and best friend, about wanting to have a family, but also wanting shared responsibilities in my household. I did not want to be stuck with particular chores for the rest of my life because I was a woman.
The questioning of the role and value of a woman’s life is strongly influenced by the Madonna’s videos and music.
..we would not be overworked like our mothers were… where we would have no opportunity for personal and professional development. While we had such conversations we listened to Madonna singing “Holiday,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Hanky Panky,” and “Cherish” on the radio and flipped through magazines with the latest pictures of Madonna.
The above clearly illustrates the powerful influence of Madonna’s music and image on young teenagers and their ideals and perceptions of life. This influence was emphasized and enhanced by the radical nature of the sexual suggestions and often blatant sexual references in her videos.
2.4. Sexuality and individual freedom and expression
Therefore, as is evident from the above discussion, an essential aspect in understanding the appeal of Madonna, as well as the importance of her music and work, is the view that it should be seen as part of the need for freedom of expression and the release from normative societal experience experienced by youth throughout world. As the study by Lugo-Lugo states:
Hundreds of teenagers became enchanted by the power that Madonna radiated on TV… She struck a chord with me: I loved her “don’t mess with me or else” attitude; I wanted to appropriate that attitude for myself. She embodied all I wanted to be — a strong, assertive, smart, and self-sufficient woman.
Therefore, the music, lyrics and image that Madonna projected was taken very seriously by many young women and the sensual aspects of these songs and videos were seen as a signal for liberation from existential confinement and subservience by many. In this sense we could suggest that the use of eroticism and sexuality was not only for shock value but also served a real social function. This view is supported by a wide range of studies and critiques.
The 1980s were an age when many women were questioning the role and status that society had given them and were searching for a sense of self-worth and self-fulfillment. This is often referred to as the redefinition of gender roles in society, and the images and music that Madonna created were seen as an expression of this need.
Young women in the 1980s were thus beginning to feel the need for a redefinition and renegotiation of what was expected from them in both the private and public arenas. We took it upon ourselves to reinterpret and to reconceptualize gender roles.
Among the many aspects that were being questioned were important issues, such as passivity, virginity, and servility. These and other aspects relating to the way that young women saw themselves were “deconstructed” or radically questioned. The question of what it meant to be a woman was a dominant theme in the culture and art of the time – an issue that is still topical today. Furthermore, “…the lines between good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable were being blurred.” (Lugo-Lugo) in essence, young women and men were increasingly determined to “…undress our minds of the traditional standards society had set for us and to step into the public sphere unencumbered…” (Lugo-Lugo)
In this milieu the music of Madonna was to play a highly influential and directional role in the search for individual identity and authenticity. In this light the sexual and provocative images and ideas that were an integral part of Madonna’s art become an important part of this developing culture.
Madonna used sexuality not only to questions female roles in society but also questions sexual mores and norms in general. Her work also explores the possibility and validity of other forms of sexuality and life styles, such as homosexuality. There is also a sense in which much of her sexual imagery is androgynous, placing all stereotypical and fixed ideas about sexuality in doubt. In the book Sex there are for instance images of Madonna kissing and applying lipstick to male actors, who that are obviously androgynous with long female hair.
As one study notes: “Madonna was interested in exploring these conventions. Madonna herself has publicly said that she was interested in holding up a mirror to society to show them that a woman can be intelligent, powerful, and sexual.” (Madonna: A critical analysis)
The use of sexuality to motivate and stimulate individual expression through the denial of the carte blanche acceptance of conventions can be seen in the way that Madonna juxtaposes conventional religion with sexuality. In many videos religious symbols and icons are placed in close conjunction with sexual images and innuendo. This was intended to place conventional religion and other norms into question and to express doubt about the social acceptances of conformist religion.
There are many instances of this implied criticism of conventional religion. For example, a well-known image created by Madonna was that of a dark skinned Jesus Christ figure in her music video “Like a Prayer.” In the “Confessions on the Dancefloor” Tour, Madonna was”… criticized for partially reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” (Religion: Marketing Tool for Popular Culture?) as one critic states, “More than any pop artist of our time, Madonna has made a reputation by combining what most people consider unlikely opposites: sex and religion…” (Madonna’s Crucifixion: Blasphemy or Inspiration?) This can also be related to the theme of rebellion against all forms of convention. As Lugo-Lugo states in her article;
rebelled against the dogmas of the Catholic Church and against my grandparents’ prejudices and racism, Madonna was singing “Like a Prayer” and kissing a black saint in one of her videos. When I was twelve years old, I decided I did not want to go through the third sacrament — confirmation. I thought it was a waste of my time, for, even though I believed in God at the time, I did not believe in the precepts of the Catholic Church
The above quotation clearly suggests the way that the music, lyrics and sexual imagery created by Madonna energized and supported the youthful impulse towards rebellion.
3. Sexuality as a marketing tool
Despite the above analysis of Madonna’s works that would suggest a dimension of social and even philosophical integrity to her art and the use of sexuality, there is also little doubt that Madonna is also a shrewd entrepreneur and entertainer. She opportunistically uses and manipulates public perception to create and recreate a brand name and image for herself. This can be seen from many statements that she has made about her work; for example in an interview in which she is recorded as saying, “Manipulating people, that’s what I’m good at.” (All about Madonna: Madonna Interview)
Many studies have noted the use of sexuality as a shock element that attracts attention, and is intended to do so. This is also related to the way that sex is used in conjunction with other elements to increase the shock value and to create an image that is also continually changing.
She plays the “shock” card with her audience, by using sex to shock them and then when they are convinced she is a slut, pulls right back and plays the mother card. The Madonna media manipulation is legendary. She shocks by doing the complete opposite of what people expect her to do.”
(Madonna Turns 50)
The above view of her work suggests that there is an almost cynical manipulation of the audience and of people’s perceptions and attitudes. By using sexuality and other elements to shock and entice the viewer or listener, it is suggested in many studies that Madonna intentionally creates a mix of sound and image that is intrinsically manipulative. As one article suggests; “It is a pretty simple formula. Just juggle sex, religion and the family and you are always in the newspapers.” (Madonna Turns 50) However, as has been suggested in this discussion, the view of callous manipulation of the audience may be too simplistic and it is possibly more realistic to view Madonna’s use of sexuality as a combination of manipulation as well as social and cultural idealism.
A study of the more controlling and manipulative side of Madonna by Meltzer (2000) clearly shows the “other side” or more marketing conscious perception of her art.
Those around her say that Madonna is in supreme control of her career, and always has been. It therefore stands to reason that it is not by some fluke that she has made a trendy Y2K album with the help of some extremely hip British producers. Music appeals directly to the clubbing generation. In 1990, it was the song “Vogue” that captured Cool Britannia’s imagination; now it is “do you like my acid rock?”
This is illustrative not only of Madonna’s business and entrepreneurial acumen but also of the way that aspects such as sexuality are used to create a certain atmosphere and ambience that is suited to the time and the developing trends in the music industry and culture. In this sense it is important to understand the relationship between Madonna’s work, sexuality and the media. As one pundit states; “Madonna irrevocably changed the media image of female sexuality.” (Meltzer, 45) in other words, Madonna was successful in promoting and marketing a vision of female sexuality that changed the view of the limits and norms of female independence and at the same time was a calculated response to the needs and desires that were shaping contemporary culture.
This awareness and play on popular sentiment and attitudes is possibly the most significant and far-reaching effect of the use of sexuality in the context of marketing and media. An example of this aspect are the events surrounding the controversial 1990 Toronto concert, where elements of both publicity seeking and marketing stratgies can be seen; as well as elements of the social awareness of the public needs and demand for female freedom of expression that is such a significant characteristic of the Madonna phenomenon.
On the 1990 tour Madonna was informed by Canadian police that any simulation of orgasm on stage would constitute a breach of law and she would be arrested. Madonna saw an opportunity to garner the greatest amount of publicity, while at the same time responding to the need for individual liberty and rebellion against convention that had become the hallmark of her media message. Consequently, she refused to comply with the police. Interestingly, “…it was Madonna who alerted the media to the police’s presence by releasing a statement criticizing the attempt to deny her “freedom of speech and expression.” (Meltzer, 45)
This incident shows the way that Madonna manipulates the use of sexuality and public opinion and at the same time indicates her awareness of contemporary concerns. There seems to be elements of both cool and calculated strategy as well as genuine concern for human rights and freedom in her artistic statements. Meltzer summarizes this point-of-view as follows:
Her outrage at what she saw as a denial of her civil liberties suggests that Madonna did not desire to be provocative for its own sake. The scandalous elements of the show may have been relentless self-publicity, but she also had a message of liberality and tolerance to spread, regardless of the effect on her record sales. Portraying women as owners of male slaves, and promoting respect for gay people, Madonna had a fairly progressive agenda for someone who was supposed to epitomise the mainstream.
4. Conclusion: Reinvention and hype
Therefore, Madonna can be seen both as the manipulator and the innovator in her use of sexuality. On the one hand her use of sexuality can be seen from a manipulatively callous point-of-view; while, on the other hand, it can also be perceived a having positively intended consequences for individuality and freedom.
However, many critics posit a much more callous view of her artistic and media output. That refers particularly to her use of sexual imagery and the way that she uses this aspect to influence public views by ‘reinventing’ herself and her image to suit the times. This view assert that Madonna’s continued reinventions and changes in style and contest are evidence of her manipulative intentions.
American singer Madonna, the top earning female singer in the world, has perpetually reinvented herself while maintaining her status as iconic pop diva over a mind-blowing 25?year career. From kinky virgin to Christian devotee, cowgirl to disco queen, bisexual exhibitionist to anti-war activist and beyond (Madonna, the master of reinvention)
While views might differ about the sincerity or otherwise of Madonna’s use of sexuality and other aspects of her art, critics have also pointed out that public manipulation is no longer as easy to achieve as in the past. The advent of the Internet, mass communication and a plethora of information sources that are instantly updated has resulted in a far more discerning and critical audience. As Michael Hirschorn states in Falling Stars: Can Celebrities Survive the Age of Too Much Information, many celebrities have fallen for grace as a result of their exposure to modern media interrogation. In other words, image manipulation and insincere hype are no longer as opaque as in the past and the modern viewer or audience has the facility to quickly see through any pretense of manipulation. The following assessment is quoted at length as it pertains to the issues under discussion.
The public now is too sophisticated, too cynical, to take a face at face value. Madonna had thrown herself about publicly with great abandon, secure in the conviction that her every move — attending Kabbalah classes, adopting a Malawian child — would be accepted by her multigenerational fan base. But the digital era demands 100% authenticity, since inconsistencies between brand and reality can be easily parsed and exploited by legions of paparazzi and bloggers thrilled to take down someone who places herself upon a pedestal, who takes herself too seriously.
In terms of this critique, Madonna could be accused of often underestimating her audience, which has begun to question her shifts and changes in style and content, especially with regard to her use of sexuality. One has to wonder at the changes from the explicit use of sexuality to the recent enthusiasm that Madonna has shown for spirituality.
On the other hand, there is the view that these changes, ‘reinventions’ and fluctuations in Madonna’s career are evidence of her concern for a range of issues in her art and are therefore more indicative of a growing and searching artistic curiosity rather than intentional hype.
Nevertheless, what can be said in conclusion with a degree of certainty is that Madonna’s use of sexuality should be seen in the first instance as a means of rebellion against the norms and values of the time. It has also been supportive of the exposure of female exploitation and subjugation as sexual objects and the need for liberation, both sexually and socially, from a male dominated world.
All about Madonna: Madonna Interview. 1 Oct. 2008
This is an insightful early article and includes interviews with Madonna in the 1980’s; which sheds light not only on her life prior to fame but on the way that her early life may have influenced her attitude towards music and sexuality.
Domenech-Rodriguez, Melanie. Adolescent evaluation of gender role and sexual imagery in television advertisements. 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.allbusiness.com/marketing-advertising/advertising-television-advertising/674984-1.html
This is an overview and analysis of the way that sexuality and gender roles are portrayed in the modern media. The article refers only obliquely to Madonna but provides important background information and theory about the relationship between sexuality and the media. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5023928862
Hirschorn, Michael. “Falling Stars: Can Celebrities Survive the Age of Too Much Information?.” The Atlantic Monthly Nov. 2007: 171+. Questia. 1 Oct. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5023928862.
This is a succinct but important article that interrogates and value and viability of Madonna’s image and compares her career to the fall from grace of so many stars and celebrities. The main reason given for this view is that modern audiences have much greater access to data and information and that maintaining an image, especially if insincere, is much more difficult than in the past. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002432343
Lugo-Lugo, Carmen R. “The Madonna Experience: AU.S. Icon Awakens a Puerto Rican Adolescent’s Feminist Consciousness.” Frontiers – a Journal of Women’s Studies 22.2 (2001): 118+. Questia. 1 Oct. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002432343.
This article explores aspects of the Madonna phenomenon in Puerto Rico by looking at her status as a public figure, and at how such status wielded influence over a group of teenage girls in Puerto Rico. It also explores Madonna as a liberating icon.
Madonna: A critical analysis. 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.madonnatribe.com/idol/back_to_school_01.htm
This is an insightful essay that refers to many of aspects of sexuality throughout Madonna’s career. There essay is useful not only in term of the numerous references to sexuality in the music and other works, but also in its assessment of the function of sexuality.
Madonna’s Crucifixion: Blasphemy or Inspiration? 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.godweb.org/madonnacruci.htm short article that examines the controversy surrounding Madonna’s use of religious symbolism in her concerts. The article tends to emphasize the underlying social and humanitarian aspects of this imagery.
Madonna, the master of reinvention. 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.thetimes.co.za/Entertainment/CelebZone/Article.aspx?id=589152
This is a very clear and succinct summary of the main points and issues in the Madonna’s rise for fame from humble beginnings. The article also provides insight into the way that she has manipulated and used public issues in the ‘reinvention’ of her image and to enhance her career..
Madonna Turns 50. 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.undercover.com.au/News-Story.aspx?id=6012 short article that briefly reviews her rise to fame and some of the more questionable methods that she has used. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001090382
Meltzer, Robin. “Material Whirl.” New Statesman 18 Sept. 2000: 45. Questia. 1 Oct. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001090382.
This is a very insightful article that reveals the manipulative and marketing side of Madonna. It also deals with her social views and her attempts to liberate women for restrictive social norms.
Religion: Marketing Tool for Popular Culture? 1 Oct. 2008. http://www.freewebs.com/gill_slade/celebrities.htm very short article with a few relevant pointers about Madonna.
The Sex Book. 1 Oct. 2008. http://absolutemadonna.com/sex/
This is a fan site but provides a range of essential data and facts in a succinct and easy to read format. It is a very useful starting point for further research
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